Religion being a very personal issue, often central to one’s self-image, it’s conceivable that many people don’t wish to report their true beliefs to a proverbial Big Brother and thus will check “other” or “personal” on a government census.
Other people may live in tribal societies and are never directly asked what they believe–it is merely assumed that each individual adheres to the general beliefs of his of her group. A good example of this would be the Santals of India and Bangladesh, who according to a 1991 census are about 4.2 million strong. Among this significant population, the religious beliefs of only 23,645 individuals are officially recorded.
Another issue is the problem of defining religion (versus, for instance, a cult, a collective delusion, a myth or a pastime) and trying to assess who, if anyone, has the authority to define it.
On the issue of New Religious Movements (NRM) Eileen Barker says:
When social scientists have been pressed in a court of law to say whether a particular NRM is “really” a religion, they have not always insisted as clearly as they might that science cannot give the definition of a real religion. It is only when the court provides a definition, or we use the form “if by religion you mean. . ,” that we can say whether, according to that definition, the movement is “really” religious.
Eileen Barker, “The Scientific Study of Religion? You Must Be Joking!” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 34, No. 3, (Sep., 1995: 287-310, p. 306).
Having noted the above, the following figures should be taken cum grano salis.
2000 CE, in millions:
|Total world population||6,260|
Source: D.B. Barrett, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) in G. Parrinder, A Concise Encyclopedia of Christianity (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998, p. 9).
On the World Wide Web:
- Adherents.com (an excellent site providing the reservations mentioned above are kept in mind)
- “Canada World Religion Day Stamp” originally uploaded by Kianoosh Raika at http://www.flickr.com/photos/djkianoosh/474556286/, Creative Commons License
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